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September 06, 2010

INSPIRATION: The Colors of the 1960s

The Vitra showroom in the Meatpacking District between Greenwich Village and Chelsea in New York is more than simply a furniture store, it's like a library of incredible design objects.  (They even sell miniature versions of classic chairs).  At the moment, on display are many examples of the famous 'S' chair by Verner Panton, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year.  To me, it looks fresh as ever and it got me thinking about how vibrant and unabashed colors were in the 1960s, so I got out some books, went online, and hunted for some color inspiration.

Vitra Panton Chair

Panton Chair by Verner Panton, 1960

The chair that started it all.  I love how simple and sleek the shape is, and how bold the colors look in the one-piece plastic.  It looks exciting even in white: imagine a row of them in a dining room with deep-red walls and black trim.  (For more information about Vitra, visit vitra.com.)

Pastil chair by Eero Aarnio and Tulip chair by Pierre Paulin

Left, Pastil chair by Eero Aarnio, 1968; Right, the Tulip chair by Pierre Paulin

Don't these two make some of our contemporary furniture look a little tame by comparison?  The chair on the left could be the start of an amazing child's room with a checkerboard floor and striped walls.  The armchair would look perfect in a den with blond wood floors, an off-white flokati on the floor, and pale blue walls.

Mondrian dress by YSL and Verushka in Emilio Pucci

Left: Mondrian Dress by YSL, 1965; Right, Verushka in Emilio Pucci, c. 1964

The era is probably best remembered for miniskirts and go-go boots, but I'll take a beautiful print by Emilio Pucci, like the one on the right, any day.  Look at that sophisticated mix of oranges, golds, reds, browns, and more!  Imagine a living room where each element was one of those colors--but somehow keeping it from going crazy (or maybe not?).  And on the left is a famous dress by Yves Saint Laurent, based on a Mondrian painting.  Just cream and white with red and yellow accents.

Marimekko Unikko and Kaivo by Maija Isola

Two prints by Maija Isola for Marimekko.  Left: Unikko; Right: Kaivo, both 1964

One of my favorite design companies is Marimekko, which is based in Finland.  Since 1951, Marimekko has been a pioneer of prints, bringing together folk traditions and contemporary graphics.  The print on the left is probably their most famous ever, and you can still buy fabric and housewares in the pattern.  (To have a look at their history and get some inspiration, visit their website at marimekko.fi/eng.)  I had a chance to visit Marimekko in Finland a few years back and seeing those iconic designs, colors, and patterns in the context of modern life was beautiful.  Looking back can give us such insight into the future!

1960s interior

OK, so not everything in the 1960s was so groovy and beautiful.  Sometimes there really can be too much color, or color used carelessly.  This room makes my head hurt!


Of course, you don't have to go overboard to capture the energy and flavor of the 1960s.  Simply add one or two of these iconic colors from the period.


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